You know it all really comes down to how you perceive yourself to be. What is your self-image? I grew up reading a lot of Western novels… Louis L’Amour and the whole Man With No Name series brought so sexily alive by Clint Eastwood in his Westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. So it was I guess natural that I believed that I was a tough cookie like Clint… I could squint my eyes against the Chennai sun as well as he could. I was in my 20s when I truly realized that I am not a tough cowboy at heart…
Those of you who have been reading my last few posts on the Himalayan road trip would know by now that that is the farthest thing from the truth as far as I am concerned. I am not a poker-faced, dare-devil cowboy or girl. I am not an adventurer. Not a single risk taking bone in my idli-sambar loving south Indian bones. Fact is, I am a bloody coward scared of pretty much anything which involves my taking my feet off Mother Earth. I love words and I love terra-firma – the flat kind.
But for some strange reason there is this crazy mutation in my otherwise well-behaved DNA strand that keeps urging me to seek mountains – no, not the metaphorical mountain of growth and challenges… just the plain old pine tree and snow-covered ones. Not to climb. I have no such ambitions. Just to look at, from closer quarters and be… I don’t know… I guess, awed. It reminds me that I am part of a whole – a tiny part of a system that somehow works without me and yet is kind enough to let me walk in it, breathe its air and skip among its waves. I am humbled. I have experienced something similar when I stand at the shore of those long Chennai and Pondicherry beaches where the waves crash and bang with a force, that seem to constantly warn me, not to mess with them.
The Rhythm Of Life Itself
But at the beach I can still hang on to some pretense of being in control. I can tell myself, “As long as I don’t go in too deep I am fine!” Did I mention that I can’t swim? However in the mountains there is no such pretense. I am in the mountains. I look up and I see gorgeous towering peaks and closer to me towering alpine trees. I look down and I see the ground plummeting away from me and beautiful beginnings of massive plain rivers that are just happy to be gurgling and skipping over rocks and pebbles at this point. I realize that I am witnessing Earth as God must have surely intended her to be – pristine and starkly beautiful.
However I think there is a deeper personal reason – at the beach with the waves crashing on to the shores maintaining a steady rhythm I am intensely aware of the passage of time. In and out, in and out, the hypnotizing rhythm lulls me yet keeps track of every passing moment.
Whereas in the mountains I find that time stands still. It is an illusion. I know that. The shedding leaves and gurgling streams… these are all our time keepers. However it is at a pace that I am at peace with.
Time Stands Still
So what do you perceive yourself to be? – A Mountain person or a Sea person. Do let me know in your comments. I do believe there just may be an entire semester-worthy pop psychological study that can be conducted on this… you know, a bit along the lines of dog people versus cat people. ;p
I think it is only right that I should end this little segue with these passages by Robert MacFarlane and Philip Connors.
Robert Macfarlane in his Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit says, “Mountains seem to answer an increasing imaginative need in the West. More and more people are discovering a desire for them, and a powerful solace in them. At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction – so easy to lapse into – that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.”
A view echoed by Philip Connors in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009. He says, “The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble — to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consumer nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.”